What's in Our Food?

What's in Our Food? (Reporter: Jaime McCutcheon)

EASTERN CAROLINA - We're looking at the state of our food today.  As we get busier, our food becomes quicker and more convenient to keep up with us.  But at what cost?
There is a growing movement of people looking to return to what they call "real food" - food that is less processed and grown without chemicals.

The topic of our food keeps showing up in the headlines.  The U.S. Supreme Court handed down a ruling Monday concerning GMO's or genetically modified organisms or crops.  And two North Carolina moms recently made national news for taking on Kraft about the use of artificial dyes in macaroni and cheese.  One of those moms has a blog called "100 Days of Real Food."

One mom in our area is making some real changes.  The savory smell of soup fills Christina Marshen's home in Vanceboro.  It's soup that is chock full of what some call "real food" these days - no additives, no chemicals, nothing processed.

"Almost everything we have in this house, it will go bad in a week.  You don't want things on the shelf forever because that's what you're putting in you body and you only have one body," says Christina Marshen.

That's what made Christina change what her family eats.  She started about a year and a half ago.  "It took about a month to clear out all the junk in my house.  We went through and everything that had 10 ingredients or more, we either chucked it or made something with it and gave it to somebody."

Now her kitchen is full of organic, natural and local food, and Christina's yard is shared with egg-laying chickens and a newly-planted veggie garden.  "We go to the Farmer's Market every Saturday and now Tuesday, and we go to Putnam Farms {in Kinston}."
Christina's changes come after she learned more about food concerns that have been debated for years, including artificial dyes, Bisphenol-A or BPA and GMO's or genetically modified organisms.  They are mostly found in processed foods.
Artificial dyes have gained attention lately, especially Red #40 and Yellow #5.  Research has raised questions if the dyes increase hyperactivity in children.  Cancer causing agents are known to be in artificial dyes, but at levels the FDA considers "safe."

The European Union now requires a label on foods containing artificial dyes.  Those labels must state "may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children."  The FDA ruled against having similar warnings on products in the U.S.  Yellow #5 is banned in Norway, and Red #40 is or has been banned in six European countries.  Many companies that sell food in both the U.S. and Europe continue to use artificial dyes in the products sold in the U.S., but in the same product sold in Europe, natural dyes are used.
Here's what registered dietician Colleen Bucher with Vidant Health Systems had to say when it comes to buying food with dyes.  "I will look at food labels, and if I see something is colored with beet juice, I would choose that over a dye any day."
Bisphenol-A or BPA is a chemical commonly used in plastic food packaging and the lining of cans in canned food.  A Centers for Disease Control study found BPA in nearly every person it tested, proclaiming "widespread exposure."  Studies show it could impair our central nervous system and the way our hormones work, possibly leading to reproductive and developmental problems. 

The FDA states this, "studies employing standardized toxicity tests have thus far supported the safety of current low levels of human exposure to BPA. However, on the basis of results from recent studies using novel approaches to test for subtle effects, both the National Toxicology Program at the National Institutes of Health and FDA have some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and young children."  Read more from the FDA HERE.  The FDA ruled in 2012 against banning BPA, but it has been banned in baby bottles and baby cups since 2012 in the U.S.

CLICK HERE for information on BPA from the Centers for Disease Control.

When it comes to BPA, the Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units offers these tips:

  • Avoid plastics with symbol # 3 (PVC or polyvinyl, which contains phthalates), symbol # 6 (PS or polystyrene foam or Styrofoam) and symbol # 7 (other, including BPA).
  • Do not microwave food/beverages in plastic
  • Do not microwave or heat plastic cling wraps
  • Do not place plastics in the dishwasher
  • If using hard polycarbonate plastics (water bottles/baby bottles/sippy cups), do not use for warm/hot liquids
  • Use safe alternatives such as glass or polyethylene plastic (symbol #1)
  • Avoid canned foods when possible (BPA may be used in can linings)
  • Look for labels on products that say "phthalate-free" or "BPA-free"

Then there are genetically modified organisms, or GMO's, which are most common in corn and soybeans.  They may be modified for reasons like faster growth or resistance to disease.  Opponents of GMO's are concerned about the safety of eating them and their effect on the environment.  A group in New Bern is currently organizing a march to draw awareness to GMO's and Monsanto, a company that manufacturers GMO seeds.  CLICK HERE for more information on the march.

The FDA maintains approved GMO's are safe.  So far, the FDA does not require labeling to indicate products that contain GMO's.  The FDA states this: "FDA supports voluntary labeling for food derived from genetic engineering. Recently, FDA has received citizen petitions regarding genetically engineered foods, including the labeling of such foods. The agency is currently considering those petitions, and at this time, has not made a decision, in whole or in part, regarding the petitions."  Read more from HERE.

Christina Marshen tells us though, she's not convinced it's all safe, and will make sure her family eats only what mother nature makes.  "It's not that hard once you get what you need.  It's not that hard to maintain, it just takes a little more time."

One tip from registered dietician Colleen Bucher with Vidant Health Systems, shop mostly on the outside walls of your grocery store.  That's where you're going to find fresh fruits and veggies, meats, dairy and frozen foods.

Part two of our series "You Are What You Eat" will focus on organic food.  We'll hear from an organic farmer and we'll break down the cost factor.  How much more expensive is organic food?  We look at some examples Wednesday on NewsChannel 12 at 5 p.m.

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